• Where: The Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar, 1459 Riverside Drive.
• Phone: 622-0122.
• Website: boathousechattanooga.com
• Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
• Price range: $2.50 (sides of black beans, Olive Oil Fried Potatoes, Island Slaw, potato salad or extra bread)-$22.95 (wood-grilled ribeye).
About half the customers at the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar are in such a rush to reach the restaurant that their vehicles clip the lip of the driveway coming in. It's the view that reels them in. That, and the promise of fresh seafood and a meal that feels like a short vacation.
The phrase "raw bar" in a landlocked state is normally a cause for concern rather than celebration, but that's not the case here.
With a 180-degree view of the Tennessee River, the Boathouse is reminiscent of a fresh seafood restaurant perched on a Boston pier, where diners can watch fishermen approach the wharf with the evening's meal. But since it's Chattanooga, and most of us are landlubbers, there's plenty of chicken, too.
The cuisine draws its influence from the Southeast United States and the Caribbean islands, serving meals inspired by everything from Mexico to voodoo, according to a giant map painted on an interior wall.
The map is just a part of the Boathouse's ambiance. Ice trickles from the high ceiling into a tub at the bar. The setting sun lends an orange glow to the atmosphere, bathing the air in warmth as a fine mist keeps the temperature comfortable on the wraparound deck.
It costs a couple of extra bucks to enjoy this gorgeous location across the river from the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club, but it's worth it if you pick the right entrees.
We started with raw Gulf of Mexico oysters, which were shockingly fresh. The oysters tasted and smelled like they were pulled from the ocean only minutes prior. Even better, they're half-price (12 for $6.50) on Mondays.
The rich and filling clam chowder ($9.95) picked up the pace a bit. The chowder was stuffed with actual clams, not some dehydrated cafeteria mix, and was elegantly spiced without being overpowering.
Don't be deceived by the name of the poblano pepper ($8.95). It's so much more than just a pepper. The appetizer was grilled and stuffed with rotisserie chicken, queso and feta cheese, and was topped with avocado and chips.
Each element was juicy, fresh and cooked to perfection.
For entrees, we tried the New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp ($17.95), which were enormous and evocative of Cajun cuisine without being too derivative. Perfectly cooked, each massive shrimp burst with garlic and buttery goodness, with enough barbecue flavor to ring true.
We had less luck with the wood-grilled tilapia ($15.95), which arrived overcooked, dried-out and rendered bland. The black beans and rice seemed not to complement the fish well, and the entire package was a bit disappointing.
However, for those looking to spend a little less money, a spit-roasted barbecue pork sandwich ($8.95) was delicious and filling.
The food overall is fresh but filling and may require a cocktail or two to fully digest. Happy hour is actually eight hours long Sunday through Thursday, when it lasts from 2 to 10 p.m. On Friday and Saturday, inexpensive beer and mixed drinks are available from 2 to 6 p.m. as the sun sets over the water.
And at the end of the day, it's that sublime interaction between water and sun, cool mist and warm air, spicy seafood and sweet chicken that sets the Boathouse apart.